Anyone passionate about food and wine ought to spend some time in New York City. The breadth and quality of choices are magnificent. And that is why I took a three-day trip there this past week.
Normally, I would do a post for each day, to make digestible bites, as it were. However, blog formatting would have you read day 3 before day 2, etc., so I am making it one longer post (with sections) to preserve the integrity of the story.
The drive from my home to midtown NYC is less than four hours, as long as I avoid rush hour. I stay at the Hotel Giraffe, my favorite over the past few years. It’s busier and more expensive than it used to be (what isn’t these days?), but it’s a fine location and the room includes free Internet, a very nice breakfast in the morning and a wine-and-snacks offering in the late afternoon, so it is still a good value.
I arrived mid-afternoon, in plenty of time to check-in and to walk downtown to the Union Square Greenmarket. What a feast for the eyes! I was impressed with the range of produce and the general quality of much of the goods.
I couldn’t resist buying the Padron peppers and the Calaloo greens to bring home and cook. Fortunately, the hotel cooperated by placing these in their refrigerator so the products would still be fresh when I headed home. Good thing I purchased when I did; even though the market is also open on Wednesday, many of the vendors are different, so grab what you like when you see it — which is generally a pretty good philosophy for life.
After the market I had decided to locate the best pizza joint in the East Village. Having done my homework on SeriousEats, I determined that the choice was between Luzzo’s and Motorino. Even though these are Neapolitan style (vs. thin, crisp NY/Roman style crust), I figured it was worth a try. It was fascinating to walk down to that area, barely three blocks from where I had grown up 60 years earlier. It had changed a lot but was still delightfully multi-ethnic, and food had obviously risen in importance for the natives.
Both restaurants were pleasant and cozy, but I was more attracted to Motorino, so I went there. Knowing that I would be tempted to stray a bit from my vegan ways, I was prepared and promptly ordered the octopus salad with fingerling potatoes, celery and chili peppers as a first course. It was tender and delicious, and it was well-matched by a glass of Aglianico. For my pizza, I hoped to avoid cheese, so I went with the Marinara (tomato sauce only) supplemented with brussels sprout leaves. This seemed a logical choice, since I sometimes roast baby brussels sprouts in my wood-fired oven, and they come out caramelized and yummy.
Unfortunately, that was not the case that evening. As I slowly picked at the pizza, the store manager, Charlie, came over and asked if everything was to my liking, and I told him I was disappointed. He immediately offered to replace it with something else, so we chose a mushroom pizza instead. This was delicious: very thin slices of Cremini mushrooms (lots of them) and melted, imported mozzarella from Campania. A few Gaeta olives were thrown on for good measure.
I went to bed early, comfortable in the knowledge that I was off to a good start.
After some very productive, non-culinary errands in the morning, I was ready for a late lunch. I did a lot of walking that day (about three miles overall), even though it was raining, so I stopped back at the hotel to change to drier clothes and then went to explore a highly-rated tapas restaurant, Casa Mono. It was outstanding. Nice decor, good choices, fine wine and excellent food. I started with the Blackened Beets, Micro Greens, Salted Granola (and a little of the Cana de Cabra on the side), and a glass of Lopez de Heredia 2003 Bosconia Rioja. This combination was the highlight of my entire week.
One of the most celebrated dishes in the restaurant is the Razor Clams a la Plancha, so once again I choose a small detour (these are little plates, after all) in favor of another hit for my Vitamin B-12 supply. Accompanying these was a plate of Setas (Oyster Mushrooms) cooked with garlic, very fine, indeed.
Casa Mono may translate as “monkey house”, but it’s on my list of favorites now. Tuesday evening, I took the subway to Brooklyn to visit my friend Jan, an importer of superb wines from small Italian wineries. I have never had a wine from Jan that I did not fall in love with, so I was delighted to have a chance to learn about a few more of his selections. Since his mother was visiting from The Netherlands, he couldn’t join me for dinner, but he did suggest a new restaurant owned and managed by his landlord, so I went off to Aita for dinner. This is not an easy name to remember. However, since I am a fan of Giuseppe Verdi, the term “Aida” comes to mind, and I substitute a “t” for the “d”, to recall the restaurant.
The meal was very good. First course was a Roasted Cauliflower, Radicchio and Chili Vinaigrette, with a glass of Jan’s 2011 Occhipinti Alter Ego, a white wine version from Aleatico grapes — fresh, unusual, delightful. Second course was the Garganelli, with Roasted Butternut Squash, Oyster and Shiitake Mushrooms, and a Leek Sauce. For the finale, a cup of delicious Neapolitan espresso with a biscotto was perfect. The hostess, Julia, was very accommodating, the ambience was lovely, and the food was well-done.
The last day of my foodie adventure was the most complex. In the morning, I went back to the Greenmarket at Union Square, to see what the offerings were at midweek. For the afternoon and evening I was fortunate to have a good friend join me, to explore food and wine together — mostly new places. Most of the photos below are just from the market, including a bunch in one collage to save space; you’ll have to use your imagination to conjure up the images for the rest of the day, since I was too busy enjoying it to take pictures.
We had lunch at Candle Cafe West, an excellent choice for vegan food. Next stop was one of my favorite wine stores, Acker Merrall and Condit, great selection, knowledgeable staff. From there, we went to Little Italy, for some specialty products at Di Palo’s, at Jan’s recommendation. In addition to a small chunk of hard-to-find Montasio cheese, which I wanted to make a frico, I bought a small jar of Calabrian hot peppers and some excellent Umbrian brown lentils:
The final shopping venue was at The Meadow, a store specializing in all kinds of gourmet salts. Originally from Portland, Oregon, they have expanded to Manhattan and also sell via the web. In fact I had already bought some items from them before. We were pleased to have the opportunity to taste a dozen different finishing salts from all over the world. I chose three to bring home:
We relaxed after shopping with some of Jan’s Manenti Nero d’Avola from Sicily, probably the best I ever had of this grape. We finished the day with dinner at Gramercy Tavern. As always, the experience was top-notch, especially when we could have the benefit of Juliette Pope’s gracious hospitality and extraordinary knowledge of wine. I even was able to score a small plate of the chef’s pickled ramps as a starter — not on the menu, but never missed when the opportunity arises.
Thanks for plowing through this long exposition. I hope it was worth the effort for you, as it was fun for me to experience.